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Plaza History on Sale, Worn, but Glamorous

March 10, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) _ Some of the luxurious upholstery is stained from heavy use. The arms of the leather pub chairs are scratched and gouged. The Steinway baby grand piano that once sat in the Oak Room is missing some keys.

Yet, this is not just any junk going on the auction block at a Christie’s showroom in Manhattan on Wednesday. This is junk with a pedigree: castoffs from New York’s famed Plaza Hotel.

About 1,000 items from the grand hotel’s past, from its red bellmen’s uniforms to the gilded metal chairs from its legendary ballroom, will be offered for sale during the one-day auction.

The 805-room Plaza closed for renovation last year and is scheduled to reopen in the fall as a mix of 182 high-priced condominiums and a 282-room inn.

Bits of the old hotel have been disappearing for a year. Last May, the hotel had a giant tag sale on mattresses, curtains, armoires, uniforms, phones and anything else headed for the trash as part of the $350 million renovation.

This latest auction features higher-grade items, expected to fetch much higher prices. Among them: parquet dance floor used throughout the hotel and valued at between $2,000 and $3,000; oriental rugs from the Presidential Suite; and a pair of 18th century 21-light candelabras of bronze and cut glass, with an estimated value of $10,000 to $15,000.

Christie’s is also offering some lower-priced items packaged in a way that might appeal to Plaza enthusiasts.

Buyers can bid on a ``Breakfast in Bed″ lot that contains pajamas, slippers and robes bearing the Plaza monogram, or a ``Dinner for 8″ lot of place settings valued at $800 to $1,000.

Another special item on sale is a pair of red children’s slippers kept behind the concierge desk to show kids who asked about Eloise, the fictitious protagonist of Kay Thompson’s books about a little girl who lived at the hotel.

``For us, it was really about the story of the Plaza,″ said Cathy Elkies, Christie’s director of special collections. ``It is such a New York institution.″

Some of the furnishings aren’t in great shape, although that may not matter to buyers. Consider the worn humidor that once graced the Oak Room, a hotel restaurant that played host to Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s ``North by Northwest″ and served for decades as a meeting place for New York’s literati.

``Every great writer in history has taken a cigar from that humidor and sat down in the Oak Room for a puff,″ said Deborah Davis, author of a recent book celebrating one of the hotel’s most memorable events, a masked ball thrown by the writer Truman Capote in 1966.

Hyperbole, to be sure. But her point is valid; F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway all lounged at the Plaza.

To further promote the auction, Christie’s is staging a re-creation of Capote’s celebrity-studded bash in one of its galleries on Tuesday night.

Some 500 guests are expected to fill a hall furnished with Plaza chairs, tables, carpets and chandeliers. The band that played the original event, Peter Dunchin and His Orchestra, will return for an engagement.

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